The price of flexibility

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If someone spends effort (time and money) to journey from a ‘one door’ environment (inflexibility) to arrive at a place of many doors, that effort (and the effort to open the door) is the price of flexibility. The value of flexibility is then realised after they open the new door. A simple example is getting an education.

Maybe as a society, we spend too much time trying to value what’s behind the closed doors. And forget to invest in the first part – the price of moving (back) to the place in front of the doors. It’s worth noting that this part is both easier to measure and clearer to see.

It works in reverse too. As someone specialises (in their career say), they progressively leave the ‘many door’ environment behind. However, as long as the value of specialisation exceeds the value of flexibility (often true in low risk environments), life is good.

Life gets more complicated when there is fog rolling in and you only occasionally catch a glimpse of a set of doors to approach. Or when the environment changes so rapidly, that there are new sets of doors appearing on a frequent basis.

The need for (career path) reinvention comes with environmental change (also true of parenthood, by the way). By continuing to invest in flexibility while you specialise (transferable skills, wider skills), the reinvention process is lubricated.

Reinvention requires more than just agility (reaction time & expertise in jumping paths). You also need to find or create a new door environment in advance. And it’s worth bearing in mind that making your own new door (self employment) can be more powerful and more liberating than standing in a vast queue outside the new door you choose, but don’t construct yourself.

What do you think?

If you find these blogs useful, please share with others too.

Simon

Twin strands in your job

Just as twin strands make a rope stronger, is it smart career management to seek out twin-role jobs? One form of these is doing a combination of department & project roles, to build different kinds of skills and experiences.

Another form is to line-manage several functions. How can this be achieved if you have qualifications and work experience in one function only? Volunteer for short term tasks that give you that broader function exposure. Offer to take an oversight role of another support function in addition to your core one. In your next organisation, apply for a wider role.

As some organisations rationalise their senior management team, they’ll then want managers with wider functional experience. As people get promoted, more functions will inevitably come under their remit. Either way, the twin-strand form of business flexibility comes into its own.

Simon

Career Planning and Personal Flexibility

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Career planning, passion and ability

What should careers-advisors in schools and parents of the students do to help students plan for their future in the workplace? Firstly, don’t force-fit the student into a pathway that doesn’t tick both boxes of passion and ability.

If the student is passionate, but doesn’t show natural ability, be encouraging & supportive. The student may simply be a late developer. But possess inner drive to get there in the end. Even if not a late developer, the experiences & skills they pick up from the activity they’re passionate about, may transfer well into the job or career that they eventually take up.

If the student has obvious, demonstrable, natural ability, but little passion, use flexibility thinking to open their eyes to other options where that ability could transfer well.

Flexibility and career management

Many organisations have a pyramid structure. There is a relatively broad base of junior roles.  And a tiny proportion of the most senior ones. Intense rivalry occurs as ambitious, career-focussed candidates vie for promotion. And the chance to be noticed & rewarded with greater access to resources, on their journey to the senior leadership team & beyond. That said, some people work-to-live (jobs), while some people live-to-work (careers and callings). A lucky few find something they love that pays the bills.  And then feel like they never have to work a day in their life!

A generic, career journey in large organisations, could be described as follows:

  • a junior staff member is recruited and given some process tasks.
  • success leads to process oversight, perhaps with some improvement project tasks as well.
  • success leads to department oversight and perhaps part-time secondment to a multi-functional project.
  • success leads to multi-functional project oversight.
  • if the combination of success in functional department oversight and multi-functional project management goes well, that may lead to a senior management team position involving board liaison.
  • success may lead to board membership (being a full or part-time paid board member), or business consultant/advisor.

The point to note is that the requirements at each level are likely to be different.

For job seekers with qualifications, but no work experience:

Remain flexible to grasp volunteering opportunities that will give them those vital, transferable skills & experience.

For those early in their professional career:

Deepen and broaden your career experience, including through team rotations, or project secondments. If those who see little internal progression opportunity for whatever reasons, look outward, and move location if you need to.

For job seekers, note that job agencies are incentivised to maximise their commission.   Not find the candidate’s ideal next job. Putting the candidate in a safe ‘typecast’ role at the same salary, is the least risk for them.  Maximising candidate options & preserving career management flexibility is in the candidate’s hands alone. As the adage goes, ‘your career is too important to be left in the hands of someone else’.

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For those in mid-career:

It might be possible to remain a ‘straight arrow’ in the journey to senior leadership. But why not keep all your options open? Each option will have a different set of rewards & sacrifices. But simply embracing multiple options will be a confidence booster. On a related note, the more complex and diverse the World becomes, the less a one employer, one profession or one job for life applies.

Sometimes, people change countries, to work in offshore cultures (as I did). Often, university graduates in one country discover the hard way that when they move countries, their qualifications & work experience are discounted heavily in the new country. One mitigation to this risk is for the person concerned to develop additional qualifications/professional accreditations while working in the first country. Ones that will be recognised in the second country, in anticipation of moving to the second country for work.

In addition, business writers like Charles Handy have talked about people in future developing ‘portfolio careers’ i.e. a portfolio of fee-paying types of work, that together comprise the equivalent of one full time role. But also diversify risk (of personal redundancy or business insolvency).  And allow the person to maximise their impact in the time given over to each role.

For those returning to the workplace after a maternity break, perhaps consider upskilling in the time between completing child-raising and returning to the workplace. That way, the person returns in a position of strength, bringing something that other employees haven’t had the time to invest in.

Promotion

Organisational politics aside, the best way in future to get promoted, may be by focussing on working effectively to support the customer/beneficiary base. It sounds obvious, but organisations seem to find all kinds of ways of distracting staff away from that goal!

The customers need a mechanism (a feedback survey?) to ‘sing your praises’ and remind the senior management team why you are so valuable to the organisation. A key point is to ensure the targets set in your annual performance review align with things the customers care about, in care order of importance. Therefore, link your targets as directly as possible to those customers.

Workplace discrimination

A final word on discrimination in the workplace. A person’s stage in life, their disability status, their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, distant past, or current occupation don’t define them. Except in the minds of other people who cannot be flexible & tolerate diversity.  Ask yourself, if an organisation cannot be flexible on diversity amongst its staff, how successful will it be in meeting the needs of its customers? Is that really somewhere you want to work?

Key messages

  1. Understand both your relative abilities and your relative passions. Possible career paths exist in a matrix of those things.
  2. Because of the changing nature of work, be flexible – skills will need modernising, work cultures evolve. And the mix of operations versus development will vary in a job over time. For example, you may get seconded to a project for a time.
  3. Review how you see your career at a certain point – are you working to live or living to work? It could easily vary, as interesting episodes of work come and go.
  4. Avoid being in a career race with your friends. They have their life journey. You have yours. You’re not clones of each other, so why compare? Their contribution might be sooner, matched by promotion. Yours might be more significant but later. Matched by its own benefits.
  5. Understand the sacrifices needed to develop a specific career. And think hard about your appetite to make those sacrifices. If making what you consider is a large sacrifice, make sure the payoff is both large and enduring. Try to balance off quick wins and longer-term wins, regardless of your career.
  6. Access to marketable skills has value. Try to chase both breadth and depth (oscillate).
  7. Stay in a role long enough to understand the basic business model and the ‘suite of issues’. Learn how to solve the issues, apply solutions and see them bedded in. This blogger took on a maternity cover role at a high profile UK university and then had his contract extended four times across different depts, as versatility and reputation to develop insights proved itself.  Incidentally, you decide what qualifies as the ‘suite of issues’, where you can play to your strengths in solving them.
  8. Build a ‘flexibility portfolio’ to manage your career uncertainty. It likely includes developing passive income from a variety of sources. Your main professional role may not give you enough expertise to develop passive income, so learn wider skills. For example, how to become the landlord of an investment property. Or learn some entrepreneurship & social media skills to become part-time, self-employed.
  9. See the link between career management and personal flexibility (PFL). PFL is probably your best chance to achieve effective and satisfying career management.

What has been your experience of some of these issues?

Lastly, if you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others where to find it.

Simon